AM — Arctic Monkeys
With their characteristic defiance and refusal to be defined by anyone but themselves, English indie rock band Arctic Monkeys showcases their willingness to take risks and experiment — and it pays off. Their haunting and gritty fifth album features more manipulation and new instruments than their previous albums, and blends together a compelling combination of musical styles, from punk, funk, and rock to R&B, soul, and hip hop. The terse, poetic, and fervent lyrics by lead vocalist Alex Turner relate of late nights filled with frustration, desire, and loneliness. Add these in and it makes a listen you’ll want to repeat.
Days Are Gone — HAIM
Los Angeles-based sisters Este Arielle, Danielle Sari, and Alana Mychal Haim have been one of the media’s sweethearts throughout the last year. Together with drummer Dash Hutton, they entered the music scene as HAIM, a soft-rock band that draws influences from pop, folk and R&B music. Their favorable spotlight in the world of fresh music acts is mostly a result of their fun and lively debut album Days Are Gone. The album provides enough of rock basis for the listeners who are searching for the new embodiment of female-driven rock, but also sends out pop and R&B vibes for those who are looking for catchy and entertaining melodies.
Modern Vampires Of The City — Vampire Weekend
Three years after the release of their album Contra, the Ivy League alumni are back with their third and musically very different album Modern Vampires of the City. Adopting a more modest approach to their sound, this time the band delivers warm and accessible songs that somehow manage to create a slightly nostalgic and ghostly atmosphere, which is complemented by the album cover art, a photograph taken by Neal Boenzi of the smoggiest day in New York City history, which killed at least 169 people in 1966. Despite the presence of upbeat tracks, Modern Vampires of the City is a record that is still filled with intangible and mesmerizing stillness.
Nothing Was The Same — Drake
Ironically, Drake opted to refine his previous formula rather than try something completely different on Nothing Was The Same, but the decision was a good one. Money, fame, women, relationships, and family are all discussed at length, but the varied production give these old themes new life. Drake’s versatility is again a highlight — he’s not afraid to switch from rap braggadocio to tender crooning as soon as a track changes, and he does very well at both. The result is a complete, mature, comfortable hip hop/rap/R&B package from a confident artist in his prime.
Pure Heroine — Lorde
Following a path to stardom similar to her elder Lana del Rey, Lorde — a teenager from New Zealand — went from online demo to top-ten album within months. Her LP Pure Heroine can be better understood as a delivery vehicle for her two super-hits: first and foremost the ubiquitous “Royals,” a catchy song that seemed for weeks to be in continuous replay in every radio station, and which reached #1 spots in charts worldwide, and its lesser known sibling “Team”, which more transparently reveals that Lorde is — much to her chagrin — building upon the languid vocal style and dark, born-poor image of Lana del Rey (c.f. “National Anthem”). With a newly cast image as a global superstar, it remains to be seen if Lorde will continue to develop her style into something more unique but equally successful. For now, she has an advantage — audiences seemingly can’t get enough.
Reflektor — Arcade Fire
An album that’s 75 minutes long might sound like an endless and dull experience, but Arcade Fire’s fourth album Reflektor is far from being such. Drifting successfully from baroque pop to dance and rock, Reflektor is an album that requires dedication and full attention. While it is a record that grows on its listeners with time, tracks like “Reflektor,” “Here Comes The Night Time,” and “Joan of Arc” provide instantaneous quality that will surely captivate anyone who decides to explore the album.
The Bones Of What You Believe — CHVRCHES
One of the newcomers in 2013, the Glasgow-based band CHVRCHES skillfully unite intriguing and catchy lyrics with dance-oriented synth-pop music. Their debut album The Bones of What You Believe gave rise to quite a few outstanding tracks, such as “The Mother We Share,” “Recover,” and “Lies.” With their Depeche Mode-like sound and Lauren Mayberry’s unique voice, CHVRCHES have delivered what the music industry has been yearning for — fresh psychedelic dance music.
The Electric Lady — Janelle Monáe
Following her traditional mixture of sci-fi motifs with eclectic music genres, Janelle Monáe returned last September with her sophomore album The Electric Lady. While being musically less diverse than its predecessor, the new 19-track album contains some of her best work so far. New topics regarding sexuality and feminism are explored with the help of Monáe’s own idols, such as Prince and Erykah Badu, but the album’s overall theme is the same as the one of The ArchAndroid and Metropolis — finding love and equality through music. As Monáe’s fictional radio host DJ Crash Crash says: “Don’t throw no rock, don’t break no glass, just shake your ass.”
Settle — Disclosure
UK-based brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, otherwise known as the electronic music duo Disclosure, were one of the most talked-about music projects in 2013 after the release of their debut album Settle. For an album that consists mostly of collaborations with other artists, Settle has a distinct Disclosure-like flavor and still seems remarkably unified. Most of the album’s tracks are superb dance hits that elegantly combine house and UK garage music with soulful vocals, and even the less stellar tracks (like “Grab Her!”) still serve to prove that Settle is one of the best dance records of the last year.
Yeezus — Kanye West
Yeezus is angry — there are angry lyrics directed at corporations and glass ceilings, angry, minimalist beats composed of only heavy drums and a couple of dark synths, and a very angry Kanye willing to literally scream to get his point across. Whether by record companies, the Grammys, or the media, Kanye has spent a lot of time in his life getting unfairly snubbed or laughed at, and you get the feeling he’s tired of being marginalized. So he makes his points hit harder, and after a of couple listens he’ll have you yelling along too.